Our competitors are laughing at us. Again. As usual, we have taken a golden opportunity and turned it into an embarrassing public relations debacle – by once again resorting to childish arguing, bickering and finger pointing.
When we haven’t even decided yet if building an event center is right for our community, or if now is the right time to build it, why are we arguing over the location? And how did that question become a racial issue? The folks opposed to the downtown location don’t want the event center in the first place. If we don’t want it, why would we argue over the location? (Maybe that’s a reaction to having no vote in the decision, but still being asked to pay for it – “If I’m going to have to pay for it, I want it where I want it.”) But what makes that a racial issue?
If we do decide to make this huge economic investment, take on all this debt and the annual financial burden that comes with it, why wouldn’t we want the event center downtown? Why wouldn’t we at least take advantage of the opportunity to redevelop and clean up another section of our central city, which could be a catalyst for much-needed additional private investment in that area? Other cities have been successful utilizing this strategy.
But is this the right time to take on this much of a financial burden? If the thinking is “build it and they will come,” aren’t we putting the cart before the horse if we don’t first remove the obstacles preventing families, businesses and industries from wanting to relocate to Rocky Mount in the first place? When the reality is that, not only are “they” not coming, but that “they” are actually leaving, we have serious issues to address before we are in any position to consider an investment of this magnitude:
Obstacle No. 1: Crime. Recently, our City Council made the wise decision to add additional police officers and to attack the crime problem head-on. I commend our City Council, the police chief and his staff for the positive results so far. Obviously, though, we still have a long way to go to overcome the perception we’ve earned over many years of negative publicity. It’s no secret that most of our crime is drug/gang related. I believe that we need to wage an all-out war on gangs and drugs – to the point that we make it so uncomfortable for this sub-culture to operate here that they pack up and move elsewhere – even if it means doubling the size of the police force.
Obstacle No. 2: Utilities. The fact that utilities cost 20-30 percent more in Eastern North Carolina is a major deterrent to the recruitment of businesses, industries and families who might otherwise consider relocating to this area. Hopefully, there is finally a possible resolution in the works, but until this problem is solved, the benefits that an event center could bring to the area will be limited to travel and tourism dollars, as opposed to acting as a magnet for economic development. We need to fix the utilities problem before we build an event center – or “they” still won’t come.
Greatest Obstacle: Ourselves. We as a community have a huge image problem. And we have brought this on ourselves. The rest of the world sees us and our community as racially divided, backward, poor, uneducated, no opportunities, no culture, high crime. Why? Because we are constantly in the news – arguing, bickering and bringing attention to ourselves in a negative way.
While we’re busy fighting each other, and making Rocky Mount look like the last place in the world anyone would want to live, cities like Wilson, Raleigh and Greenville are quietly attracting businesses and industries that would provide the very jobs that could make the difference in the economic health of our community and its residents.
Sure, we have some problems. What community doesn’t? But is our perception reality? I personally don’t think so. I think we have some wonderful people and resources right here in Rocky Mount. But what the outside world sees and thinks becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. And one only needs to look at our declining population numbers to see that what we’re doing obviously isn’t working.
We may have many different perspectives, but we are all members of one community. To be successful as a community, we are going to have to unite for a common goal.
That means putting aside personal agendas for the good of the community. And rather that arguing, bickering, pointing fingers, let’s learn to appreciate our differences, discuss our problems and issues like adults, and work together to fix them – to help make Rocky Mount the best community it can be. Publicly, let’s celebrate our strengths and accentuate our positives. Then maybe this community will begin to become known as a great place to live – instead of a fast place to leave. That’s what will put us in the position to build an event center.